In the final Sunflower Saturday of the year in Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium, Florida softball found itself in another late-inning hole to climb out of.
Down 3-0 by the end of the fifth inning, the Gators climb found initial footing as they scratched one run each in the sixth and seventh innings.
With the bases loaded and senior third baseman Charla Echols in the batter’s box, UF seemed primed for another trademark walk off from one of its most familiar heroes.
But like a good deal of Florida’s comeback bids this season, this one died in the air with Echols’ flyout to right just short of the warning track.
No. 10 Florida (41-15, 13-11 SEC) fell to Florida Gulf Coast (18-33, 9-15 ASUN) 3-2 but blanked Mercer (16-38, 7-11 SoCon) 2-0 in a doubleheader that served as the regular-season finale Saturday. Game one became the Eagles’ second-ever program victory over the Gators and their second top-10 win this season.
Fifth-year left-hander Natalie Lugo took the loss in game one (4.0 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 3 K) while senior righty Elizabeth Hightower dominated Mercer in game two.
Game one was a pitcher’s duel through three full frames, but the Eagles were the first squad on the board in the fourth.
FGCU redshirt senior right fielder Cana Davis lifted a solo home run over the centerfield wall to break the ice. Two batters later, senior third baseman Tayli Filla’s double brought in another runner to put Florida in a 2–0 deficit.
That ended Lugo’s day and brought in sophomore lefty Rylee Trlicek to start the top of the fifth.
The damage continued into the new frame, however.
A pair of singles by Eagles graduate second baseman Hope Hernandez and senior first baseman Kacie Huber had Gulf Coast threatening again. A wild pitch from Trlicek advanced both runners to second and third.
With two outs, Davis again added to the Eagles lead as she singled to short and scored Hernandez. The inning ended there as Huber was thrown out at home trying to add another run, leaving the score at 3-0.
The Gators appeared poised to pull off one of their signature magical finishes throughout the final two frames.
Redshirt junior shortstop Skylar Wallace led off the bottom of the sixth with a single to right field. Echols smacked another single there to put runners at the corners.
Senior right fielder Cheyenne Lindsey finally scratched UF’s first run with a sacrifice fly to center. Florida recorded two of their three total hits in the frame.
With the Gators down to their last opportunity, freshman catcher Cali Decker moved to the designated player spot and drew a leadoff walk in the seventh. Sophomore Emily Wilkie pinch hit and advanced her on a groundout.
Sophomore first baseman Avery Goelz added a single to put runners at the corners, and freshman left fielder Kendra Falby drew UF’s second walk of the inning to load the bases.
With the one-two punch of Wallace and Echols coming, the former scored one run on a sacrifice fly to left. But now with two outs, Echols lifted a similar shot to right that ended the game with full bags.
Florida left seven total runners on base in the loss and went 2-12 in those situations.
Game two against Mercer, in contrast, had its only offensive action in the opening inning.
Falby’s leadoff single and subsequent steal allowed Wallace to score her from second with an RBI through the right side.
The Woodstock, Georgia, native’s program record 46th stolen base of the year came as she attempted to take second.
An errant throw to the bag by Bears senior catcher Tori Ash dribbled out into center field and allowed Wallace all the way back home to plate Florida’s second and final run of the day.
Once again, senior right hander Elizabeth Hightower threw a game-two gem for the Gators (7.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 3 K, 1 BB). The Monticello, Florida, native’s second-consecutive complete-game shutout lifted UF to a victory in its regular-season finale and held Mercer to an .045 team average.
The 2022 SEC Softball Tournament begins Tuesday from Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. All first-round games will air on the SEC Network.